backyard crowing


enchantee, ezra

from my lit book:
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
"E.P." --for two generations the mere initials have identified the father of modernism, the first and the last of a band of revolutionists who changed the course of twentieth-century poetry. Those whose lives he affected comprise a roster of some of the most distinguished writers of his time. Yeats, Eliot, D. D. Lawerence, Joyce, Frost, and Williams are only a few of those who acknowledged their debt. He survived them all, and not until his death at the age of eighty-seven in Venice did it seem that a remarklable literary era had finally ended.
Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, and raised in Pennsylvania. At fifteen he entered college, already proficient in Latin and resolved that by the age of thirty he "would know more about poetry than any man living." He attended Hamilton College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in romance philology while reading his way through a large portion of classical and European literatures. At Pennsylvania, from which he received his M.A. in 1906, he associated with two other young poets--and future imagists--William Carlos Williams and Hilda Doolittle. An academic teaching career lasted four months: He was fired from his first job, at Wabash College, for having a woman in his room. The following year he sailed as a deckhand on a cattle boat for Europe and remained there for most of his life.
From Venice, where he published (and then reviewed) a first book of poems, "A Lume Spento" (1908), Pound settled in London and with characterisitc aplomb set about to reform English letters and "To resuscitate the dead art / of poetry." The London years, between 1908 and 1920, were those in which his dictum "Make it new!" became the rallying cry of modernism, and, as London became the center of literary activity, Pound became the center of the center--discovering, coaching, promoting, and serving as a tireless gadfly to whatever new talent came his way.
With T. E. Hulme, he started imagism, the writing of short, free-verse poems presenting a single image; with Wyndham Lewis, he promoted vorticism, a literary version of cubism that argued for a poetry of "vigorous impact" with a single image at its "vortex." He published translations of Chinese poetry and Japanese Noh drama, initiating the orientalist techniques that became a modernist vogue. As overseas editor for Harriet Monroe's "Poetry Magazine" he used its pages, along with those of other little magazines, to explain his principles of reform and to introduce such poets as Eliot and Frost to American audiences. During these years he was also writing some of his best poetry. "Personae," which has been praised as his most important collection, first appeared in 1909 and was often reprinted with additions from subsequent major books -- "Ripostes" (1912) and "Lustra" (1916). At the same time he was at work on the early sections of the "Cantos", the projected epic poem that was to be his life's work.
After WWI, Pound summarized his disillusionment with the war and with England in "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" (1920). He then moved to Paris for the next four years, as a lesser but still potent force, moving among the British and American expatriates of the "Lost Generation."
The turning point came in 1924 when Pound moved on to Italy. Under Mussolini's spell, he became preoccupied with economic theory, issuing increasingly violent diatribes against American capitalism, usury, and the Jews. His views are reflected in the "Cantos" and in such prose works as "Jefferson and /or Mussolini" (1935). With the outbreak of WWII, he began broadcasting pro-Fascist propaganda to england and america. When the war ended, he was arrested, charged with treason, and held in an outdoor cage at an American prison camp near Pisa, Italy. He was returned to the US for trial, but, after psychiatric examination, he was declared insane and interned at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution near Washington, D.C. In 1948 the "Pisan Cantos", written by Pound during his imprisonment near Pisa, Italy, was awarded the Bollingen Prize by a group of distinguished literary judges. The furor that resulted from the awarding of a prize to a "traitor" divided the literary world. Eventually, through the intervention of Frost, Eliot, Hemingway, and others, Pound was released and allowed to return to Italy. The "Cantos", now numbering over a hundred, ended in 1960, and Pound retired to silence.
Although the controversy that began with the "Pisan Cantos" has continued to spur partisan assessments of Pound's achievement, his importance during the second and third decades of the century is beyond question. His best poems, like all his poetry, represent a wide diversity of forms. Among them, certainly, are some of the early, finely wrought, imagist pieces, his translations from the Chinese and "Mauberley". In the "Cantos" his innovative techniques often failed him, yet some individual passages contain his greatest work. At the end of his life Pound acknowledged his failure as a social theorist and as a poet. He had become the lost leader for the poetry of a departed age. Few literary figures had stirred such hatred, fewer still had labored so prodigiously for poetry and aroused such gratitude and admiration.

- 2005-12-15


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